Robb Report Vices

From Russia with Love

Over the past five decades, James Bond has graced the streets of New York only twice. The first time, in 1956, he infiltrated a diamond-smuggling ring in Ian Fleming’s fourth Bond novel, Diamonds Are Forever. The second time, in 1973, he was investigating the murder of three MI6 agents in the film Live and Let Die. Caviar Russe, a discreet and luxurious restaurant and boutique located on the second floor of a Madison Avenue townhouse, didn’t exist during those times, but if it had, we’re certain it would have been Bond’s ideal retreat.

Since 1997, Caviar Russe has served as the United States’ largest importer of caviar, but the service it offers goes well beyond product sourcing. “We like to think that we act as a concierge to our guests,” says Caviar Russe’s managing director, Ilya Panchernikov. “We walk you through our catalog of caviar, you can taste everything before you buy it, and then we pack it for travel for you. If someone places an order for delivery by 6 pm, we can guarantee it will arrive at their door no later than 10 am the following morning.”

And Caviar Russe is more than exceptional caviar. The restaurant sources fresh fish from around the world; and from the confines of a black-marble, open-style kitchen, executive chef Christopher Agnew prepares it in a variety of ways. “We have some really rare crudo preparations,” says Panchernikov. “We may have a lovely bluefin tuna or Japanese uni or fresh needlefish, but we always insist on minimal interference to really let the product shine.” In fact, Caviar Russe recently was rewarded for that approach, earning its first Michelin star in October last year.

When it comes to its namesake delicacy, however, the restaurant and boutique remains one of the ideal settings for an education on the topic. More than a dozen caviars are readily available, and depending on the day, the boutique’s inventory can range from shovelnose sturgeon ($50 per ounce) to Almas osetra ($595 per ounce). As for rules when tasting fine caviar, Panchernikov highlights only one—don’t mess with it. “I see people put raw red onion or egg yolks on it, and I just think that can ruin the flavor. Or at the least, mask it,” he says. “Caviar is fine with a tiny amount of crème fraîche or a toast point, but it’s best just on a mother-of-pearl spoon, then premium vodka or fine Champagne to sip and nothing else. This way, you get the exact flavor.”In the film From Russia with Love, it was Kerim Bey, head of the British secret services’ Turkish branch, who opined of Bond’s situation with Tatiana: “Ah, the old game: Give a wolf a taste and then leave him hungry. My friend, she’s got you dangling.” But at Caviar Russe, you’re never left to dangle. You’ll also never leave hungry.